Music and Brain Plasticity
Brain plasticity has to do with how learning and experience change the brain by strengthening neuronal connections. It is the conception that the brain is equipped to adapt and change based on stimuli, thoughts or actions. Experience causes existing pathways to be reinforced or new pathways to be created. Research shows that as the brain processes music, auditory and motor areas involved in music processing grow and change to interact more efficiently. Experiments done on animals in the 1980’s showed that the organization of the cortex (the outer layer) of animals’ brains could be modified by sensory input and training. The developing brain is the most malleable under the influence of music (as it is more plastic in general); however, the adult brain is also considerably plastic, and this plasticity is enhanced by music.
It is thought that music enhances brain plasticity of nonmusical functions because the networks that process music also process other functions and thus listening to or playing music encourages increased re-organization and efficiency of these circuits. This may be so effective because of the correlation between music and activity in brain regions involving emotion, arousal, motivation, and reward, all of which promote rapid learning.
Musical training in early childhood clearly has an effect on brain development. Adult male keyboard and string players who had trained musically since early childhood were found to have stronger connections between regions necessary for motor activity requiring two hands than in musicians who started later or non-musicians. Male keyboard players were also found to have a larger cerebellum than non-musicians (Barbro, 2010)
While there is evidence to support that musical training and listening to music has an effect on the organization and efficiency of other cognitive functions, this has not yet been conclusively determined. However, this area of inquiry is being explored and researched by many scientists, so more and more information is becoming available all the time!